7th Equitable Education Alliance (EEA) Meeting: A UNESCO Summary
—UNESCO in collaboration with the Equitable Education Fund (EEF) Thailand—
Established jointly by UNESCO and the Equitable Education Fund (EEF) Thailand in 2020, the Equitable Education Alliance (EEA) is a community of practitioners from organizations, government ministries, agencies, and NGOs who strive to push for a more inclusive and equitable educational system in Southeast Asia, while enhancing the performance of existing equitable education organizations at all levels.
The EEA convenes at least two meetings annually to discuss and improve equity in education through collaborative efforts. A total of 14 countries and 17 local and international organizations have participated in these meetings to date, sharing expertise to promote and foster equity in education systems through four chief areas of concentration: 1) Legal Framework Policy Development; 2) Budgeting and Financing Mechanisms; 3) Delivery and Implementation Systems; and 4) Monitoring and Evaluation.
The 7th EEA Meeting: Featured Experts
The 7th EEA Meeting (via online webinar) on 27 April 2023 highlighted the topic, ‘Budgeting and Financing Mechanisms for increased Equity in Education’, from the national to local level. The Meeting consisted of two parts: a public session and a closed-door session, the latter expressly for selected EEA members. The Meeting aimed to initiate collaborative opportunities and identify contact points that might catalyse further development of EEA, as well as to plan key activities for 2023.
Opening remarks were provided by Mr Anan Vichitanan, International Affairs Officer of the Office of Innovation for Learning Opportunity, of the Equitable Education Fund (EEF) Thailand. Two thematic presentations followed as part of the day’s open-knowledge sharing session. The first presentation was by Dr Venla Bernelius, Leading Specialist, City of Helsinki, and Docent of the Department of Geosciences and Geography of the University of Helsinki, who spoke on ‘Needs-based Resourcing as a Tool for Alleviating the Effects of Social and Urban Segregation’. The second presentation was given by Mr Henry Grageda, Project Management Specialist (Education) of USAID Philippines, who spoke on ‘Studies on Special Education Fund (SEF) and Financing Disability-Inclusive Education’.
I. Dr Venla Bernelius, ‘Needs-based Resourcing as a Tool for Alleviating the Effects of Social and Urban Segregation’
Dr Bernelius highlighted Finland’s egalitarian education system, which has been a key factor in the country’s excellent PISA results with minimal variance between schools and institutional qualities, as well as a robust public provision of education. Schools are stable and financed by the state. The learning outcomes are minimal, and the school system is based on a very equitable provision of early childhood education and care. However, Dr Bernelius also pointed out differences in the adult education system level among municipalities, especially in the capital city of Helsinki, where there are growing levels of social and spatial disadvantage and a lack of equal opportunities. The gap in the educational outcomes between the highest and lowest school deciles is equivalent to a 2.5-year learning gap. Even more important, segregation patterns seen and differentiated by parental education level affect education outcomes and school abilities. The need to understand how growing disadvantages are organized in schools and what models can be used to tackle these problems was highlighted.
The presentation also highlighted the geographical patterns of educational disadvantage that have been extensively analyzed. All school catchment areas have been mapped out in the southernmost part of Finland, the few municipalities around the capital region of Helsinki, ESPOO, and Monta cities. The Finnish system is geographically allocation-based, which has been shown to slightly minimize the differences between schools.
Dr Bernelius presented maps demonstrating an accumulation of different advantages or disadvantages in the same school districts, indicating a growing gap between neighborhoods. There is also an extreme path dependency, showing that the neighborhoods that were the most advantaged or the most underprivileged tended to be that of already 20 years ago. Even though the gaps have been growing, the rank order remains the same. The Urban Paradox is the phenomenon that shows that the most advantaged neighborhoods and the most disadvantaged neighborhoods can be found one kilometer apart in the urban core.
Moreover, Dr Bernelius noted that children tend to be more spatially segregated than adults. Families with children are even more sensitive to their living environment than, for example, couples without children. Families with children with the economic means to make choices tend to shy away from neighborhoods they perceive might have social problems. This makes the segregation patterns of children even stronger than other population groups, which of course, have even further separate schools. School-pupil segregation tends to be stronger than neighborhood segregation, as well-educated parents are more likely to try to choose a school outside their neighborhood. In the Finnish system, where the institutional quality of schools is unanimous, the options are very often based on the socioeconomic background of the other students. This affects school reputations, of course, in countries where institutional qualities differ. So, school choices then separate schools even further.
Understanding the spatial organization and school choices can help researchers statistically model the likelihood of each school having concentrations of educational disadvantage. An example demonstrated the reliable predictive power of a model in Helsinki, which predicted educational outcomes in schools using only neighborhood characteristics.
The presentation further discussed the importance of understanding segregation dynamics in education and the need for needs-based allocation of resources to prevent segregation in schools. The presentation also mentioned a vast project to model and understand the country’s dynamics in schools and develop indicators for national model development. Many other municipalities in Finland are following suit and developing their programmes.
In summary, the example of Finland over the past 20 years of research at the university, municipalities, and ministries is that even very equal egalitarian institutions are not shielded from circles of segregation, stigmatization, and disadvantage. This is why it is not enough to get funding to a consistent level; in addition, there needs to be a way to efficiently allocate extra funding to prevent some schools from slipping into such cycles of segregation. Moreover, needs-based resourcing aims to support disadvantaged pupils at schools and make these schools more attractive in parental school choices, as parental choices tend to push schools further apart. There is also an attempt to make these schools more attractive for parents in school choices and, in this way, to prevent further segregation due to choice.
II. Mr Henry Grageda, ‘Studies on Special Education Fund (SEF) and Financing Disability-Inclusive Education’
Mr Henry Grageda discussed the mechanism for financing basic education in the Philippines, focusing on how it is applied to financing disability-inclusive education in pilot areas. The Philippines has a school-aged population of around 33 million children, with about 23 million enrolled in public schools. There are nearly 50,000 public elementary and high schools, and the current classroom ratio is about one classroom for every 43 students. The Department of Education is a central agency administering public schools, and the major public funding is through the General Appropriations Act, an act of Congress or Parliament.
The Special Education Fund (SEF) in the Philippines is a local government unit fund earmarked for basic education, collected through real property tax. The SEF accounts for about 5 per cent of the local government unit income and is administered by the local school board and the school division superintendent, which means it is both a financing and a governance mechanism for education at the local level. The SEF can be allocated to different types of expenditures at the local level and reflects the income disparity between regions. The SEF per capita distribution is wide among the 17 regional administrations. For example, the newly created Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao has the lowest distribution of less than $1 per student; in contract, Metro Manila, the national capital region, has over $120 per student yearly. This disparity is attributed to the structure of the SEF, which is pegged on actual property values, and regions with high property valuations tend to have more collection due to the presence of cities and industries.
The national government’s maintenance and operating expenses for the Department of Education have a uniform allocation formula with modifiers for the number of students, teachers, and income levels of the areas. This tends to smoothen out some disparities between national and local financing mechanisms. Small, local budgets balance the national allocations in certain areas, with some regions surpassing national allocations due to their income levels and property values.
The Local Government Unit (LGU) Special Education Fund (SEF) can be more finely allocated towards locally identified priorities because it is administered locally. The SEF can be used for special programs such as special education, early childhood care, and alternative learning. The local government can allocate the SEF for local priorities, even if it only accounts for 6 per cent of the financing envelope for basic education.
According to Mr Grageda, the focus should not only be on the SEF but also on how it influences decision-making at the local level. Local governments with small SEF collections can still tap into their general fund to finance education. In some cities like Del Carmen and Surigao, the ratio of financing from the local government’s general education fund to the SEF is ten to one. This is due to the ability of the local government to budget the SEF and allocate it to different priorities, resulting in greater local investments in education beyond the SEF.
Mr Grageda manages a program to increase access to quality education for deaf-blind children. However, in 2022, it was concluded that equity-based financing mechanisms for disability-inclusive education still need to be improved.
The program aims to develop financing models through pilot programs in different municipalities in the country, and they are currently at level one of a five-block framework. A new law in 2022 mandates the inclusion of education for children with disabilities in financing from the Department of Education at the local level, which includes building learning resource centers, training special needs teachers, and allocating the special education fund for children with disabilities. The program has successfully produced models adopted by local school boards, and the local law mandates the annual allocation of the special education fund for children with disabilities.
Mr Grageda also manages two projects related to disability-inclusive education financing in the Philippines, one of which is a region-wide research study that used the Philippines as a case study. He has worked with the Department of Education and local governments for 20 years, trying to determine how to allocate the budget. While he would like to have a model like Norway’s, he thinks that the democratization of the education budgeting process compensates for this. He has also managed an ongoing disability-inclusive project and met with the Department of Education to bring the small pilot and what they have learned to the attention of local governments nationwide.
The 7th EEA Meeting concluded with a closing note by Datuk Dr Habibah Abdul Rahim, Director of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education (SEAMEO) secretariat.
For the full EEF summaries of presentations from which this announcement has been adapted, please visit: https://en.eef.or.th/2023/05/15/needs-based-resourcing-as-a-tool-for-alleviating-the-effects-of-social-and-urban-segregation/; and https://en.eef.or.th/2023/05/16/studies-on-special-education-fund-sef-and-financing-disability-inclusive-education/
For further information, please contact: Mr Papol Dhutikraikriang, Associate Project Officer, Section for Educational Innovation and Skills Development (EISD), UNESCO Bangkok: p.dhutikraikriang(at)unesco.org